Asee peer logo

Failure Rates in Engineering: Does It Have to Do with Class Size?

Download Paper |


2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Scaling class size and technology – New Engineering Educators Division

Tagged Division

New Engineering Educators

Tagged Topic


Page Count




Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Peggy C. Boylan-Ashraf San Jose State University

visit author page

Dr. Peggy C. Boylan-Ashraf is an Assistant Professor in General Engineering at San Jose State University. She teaches structures courses and researches on new paradigms in teaching introductory solid mechanics courses with an emphasis on large enrollments. Over her years of teaching, Dr. Boylan-Ashraf has taught over 6,500 students and has been awarded numerous teaching awards by her students, department, and college.

visit author page

author page

John R. Haughery Iowa State University

Download Paper |


Not everyone is meant to be an engineer, but more could be. The failure rate for engineering students is unparalleled. A staggering 40% of students in engineering do not make it through the first year and of those who make it, 30% would fail in many of its fundamental courses. Engineering is not, nor should it be, an easy program. Traditionally, many researchers have argued that the primary reason why students fail in these courses is a lack of preparedness for the high level of academic rigors in engineering. They have also argued that beyond the rigors of the material is the time commitment required outside of the classroom. While the average college course requires 2 hours of outside study for every one hour in the classroom, engineering courses require an estimated 4 hours. In addition, engineering instructors more extensively employ extensive lecturing in their classroom and grade on a curve, two practices that create educational disadvantages for engineering students. Although the systems in place that run many engineering colleges around the country work fairly well for the traditional engineering student –the teenager who shows up on campus ready to dedicate the next four years of their lives to school, a chunk of undergraduates in commuter schools do not fit this profile. These students are juggling classes and a job or family or both. Most of our education system is not built to cater to their needs, and its results are extremely wasteful.

This paper presents initial results of a research project on failure rates in an engineering commuter school –where 40% of our students work more than 10 hours per week while going to school full time. We focused on 3 fundamental engineering courses: mechanics of materials, dynamics, and introduction to circuit. This pilot research is addressing the question of "What do failure rates in these courses really measure?”

Boylan-Ashraf, P. C., & Haughery, J. R. (2018, June), Failure Rates in Engineering: Does It Have to Do with Class Size? Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--30515

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2018 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015